Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 70: Teaching Economics
Jonathan B. Wight Introduction Ethical considerations intersect with economics education on a number of planes. Nonetheless, in terms of curricula, only a handful of economics departments offer courses specifically focused on ethics.1 This chapter addresses the ways in which instructors can incorporate ethical components into teaching principles and field courses in order to broaden economic understanding and to enhance critical thinking. It examines three pedagogical issues: the artificial dichotomy between positive and normative analysis; the limiting scope of efficiency in outcomes analyses; and the incorporation of alternative ethical frameworks into public policy debates. Charles Dickens began his satirical novel Hard Times (1854) with the exhortation of a successful businessman to a schoolmaster: ‘Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts.’ The speaker, Thomas Gradgrind, was ‘A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations.’ Such is the caricature of an economic technocrat who can explain the price of labour and predict its future movements using purely objective means – eschewing any reliance on moral analysis or judgement. By the mid-twentieth century, neoclassical economists also had an allegedly ‘scientific’ way of evaluating government policies, by measuring welfare gains and losses using cost-benefit analyses. Unfortunately, these achievements rely upon a model of individual choice that severely restricts the scope of human identity, social relations in society and the ethical dimensions that inform them. As taught by Adam Smith and others, however, economics is inextricably a part of moral philosophy because humans are not aloof islands of...
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